Black women demand respect
By MELODY McCLOUD
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Why are black women so increasingly ignored, abhorred, disrespected and rejected in this country?
Who declared "open season" on us, and why?
Increasingly over the past decade, the media have projected images of black women as battered about, cast down, kicked aside, ignored, denigrated and disrespected at the will of all who take delight and sport in doing so. It is tantamount to a public flogging in the modern-day town square — the media, the Internet, TV, movies and music videos.
The latest venue? The University of Georgia in Athens, where Chi Phi fraternity pledges flashed naked images of black women to passers-by. Why? Because they could. It's acceptable sport in the 21st century. They're just black women; who cares? One student told a reporter he thought it was funny. It's not.
The late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, enjoyed a lifetime of fame and fortune and received many a laugh saying, "I don't get no respect." Many of today's black women may feel Dangerfield's battle cry is one they, too, can claim. But hardly any are laughing.
More and more, black male models and actors are readily cast opposite white and Hispanic women, to the blatant, total exclusion of black women. Magazine ads frequently engage colorism — favoring light-skinned blacks over brown-skinned ones. Lighter black women often get the sexy ads and poses; they're positioned to look soft and desirable while brown-skinned women are posed stern, frowning and even masculine with bald heads.
It also seems that the media are ever eager to show black women as "crazy " — think U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), model Naomi Campbell, Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of the TV show "The Apprentice" and others — but won't allow others to be heard or seen. It seems, "well, there's Oprah," so that's all the room they'll allow for "good" black women.
Sadly, too, those blacks in position to present black women in a better light, including Oprah, often fail to do so. Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence, more so, get rich on the image of the fat, gun-toting, loud black granny.
Shonda Rhimes, the black female creator/producer of "Grey's Anatomy," has the black male character sleeping with Asian Sandra Oh (who brushes her teeth in the kitchen sink), while Chandra Wilson, the lone black actress on the show, is "the Nazi."
And MTV — whose president, Christina Norman, is a black woman — recently aired a cartoon to young Saturday morning viewers entitled "Where My Dogs At," which had black women squatting on all fours, tethered to leashes. In 2004, U.S. Army reservist Sgt. Lynndie England subjected Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib to the same denigration and was convicted and sentenced to prison. Where is the justice for black women?
Someone must speak out against this societal poison. White women aren't going to say anything because they readily benefit from negative images of black women. Many white men — media executives, and obviously some UGA frat brothers — are having too much fun and cash flow at the expense of black women's dignity and social value; and sadly, many black men are inexplicably silent, standing on the sidelines.
This year, I wrote Marc Cherry, creator of the hit show "Desperate Housewives." Normally, to see a black woman get a recurring role in the No. 1 prime-time network program would be a major coup, a step in the right direction for American media and black imagery. But alas, once again, the lone black woman — on a show that mostly deals with sexy, alluring women with kinky trysts and family matters — is portrayed as a psychopath who chains her son in the basement.
I suggest congressional hearings to effect a tangible change in the depiction of women in music videos. Black women who participate in such videos must stop; there are better, more respectful ways to gain acceptance. Black men need to step forward: Say and do something. Honor your women. Speak to young boys.
Black film and music producers need to be socially conscious and think what effect the images they set forth have on the community and the world. White media and ad executives must advance past colorism; they also need to cast black actresses and models of all hues in loving, desirable roles.
White parents need to stop teaching racist attitudes to their offspring. And UGA students need to find something else to do in the town square. Denigrating and disrespecting black women is not a sport. It's sad that members of the Chi Phi fraternity think it is.
Dr. Melody McCloud is a physician and writer living in Roswell.